Dear Partners in Travel,
The omicron variant appearance caused that we suddenly had some time on our hands in January due to the related cancellations & slowdown. We thus did a quick last minute trip to the Kruger area to see new product and product we haven’t been to in a long time. Our focus was on the Thornybush Game Reserve and the northern section of the Sabi Sands Game reserve.
En-route we made a quick stop at Kapama River Lodge. Since our last visit in August 2020 they’ve totally redone their original standard rooms and also rebuild the restaurant that was destroyed by a fire. And what a fabulous transformation these changes are! The redone rooms (now deluxe category) were enlarged and updated to modern joys of slate tile, wood and glass. Modernised but still an ode to classical safari properties with natural textiles, colours and textures.
The new restaurant was intelligently designed to create a variety of intimate dining spaces that allows for private group dining areas but also cosy and bespoke spaces for individual travellers.
Although Kapama River Lodge is one of the largest lodge options (in terms of number of rooms) in the greater Kruger, these changes allow for tailored experiences for large leisure and incentives groups but also suitably more intimate experiences for individual travellers. They’ve certainly raised the bar in their competitor set with an unrivalled value position.
We spent our first night at Saseka Tented Camp in the Thornybush Reserve. Saseka took our breath away – from the moment you step into the public space that encompasses the dining, lounge, bar and communal gathering areas. Overlooking a dry river bed, it is set in a large riverine forest section that evokes feelings of both space and a cosy and inviting warmth. The interesting colour palate of greens that is somewhere between sage and military green is a unique addition to safari lodge tones. Sparingly used, playful splashes of soft pinks adds an unexpected colour surprise. The décor is an eclectic mix of nods to both the 50’s and 70’s set against a backdrop of natural stone and local rock, tempered by wood and plant material.
The 9 tented suites and Leadwood tented villa are decorated in a similar fashion, tone, style and colour palate. The large tents are a mix of canvas-lined walling and glass doors and windows that allows for unobscured views of the riverbed and lead to an extensive outside deck area that includes a plunge pool of ample size.
The culinary experience was refreshed, innovative and a delight for the taste buds. I would rate the food amongst some of the best safari lodge meals I’ve had. Wholesome, lots of fresh produce, surprising and delightful flavour and produce combinations that were delectable with just enough dollops of indulgence. You are on holiday after all!
Saseka would rate at the top of the limited number of tented options in Greater Kruger, but also deserves a place among the premium rated lodge options in the greater Kruger area that offers excellent value for a top quality product.
We headed to the northern Sabi Sands for our second night and stayed at Simbambili (a sister property to Saseka). It has been at least 15 years since my last visit to Simbambili – so a welcome and overdue visit. The lodge also underwent refurbishments in recent times and has been updated with a modern safari grey colour palate dotted with splashes of bright yellow, lime or burnt orange. The suites were also updated in the same tones. The updated bathrooms are airy, light and modern. Each suite includes a deck area with plunge pool.
The northern Sabi Sands is well known for its’ leopard sightings and we often refer to the area where Simbambili is located as ‘leopard valley’. It certainly lived up to the reputation and we had 4 different leopard sightings during our 2 safari drives (an afternoon and morning). I’ve probably only experienced that once before in 30 years on safari. Simbambili is a great value option in the northern Sabi Sands where options are limited.
We spent our last night at Silvan Safari Lodge. Silvan is one of the few new options that opened in the last few years in Sabi Sands and is located in an area close to Simbambili. Silvan unashamedly competes in the uber-luxury segment with the super-well-known brand names of the Sabi Sands. With only 5 standard suites and the Leadwood family suite (2-bedroom) it is certainly one of the smaller options – but definitely not small on scale. The public areas and rooms are vast and spacious.
The design is definitely also unique – buildings might not be the right description but should rather be described as wooden-clad boxed spaces painted black. Unusual but it works and blends into the natural riverine bush setting. Design and décor are ultra-modern but with a delightful playfulness that surprises, inspires and often leaves you with a smile after the initial raised eyebrow. Each suite is individually decorated in terms of colour palate and signature pieces but generally with bold colours – emerald green, turquoise, purple, yellow or sea green. Unexpected in the safari spectrum but fits perfectly with the Silvan design. One thing that is consistent throughout the Silvan design and experiences is the attention to detail. Immense number of hours had definitely gone in to each design, décor and furniture piece choice. And all those choices are impeccable.
The hospitality experience (food, staff and rangers) is on a similarly high standard and generously warm and genuine. Silvan might be too “out of the box” for some of our clients but would have clients suited for the product enthralled and delighted.
We always strive to place the right client in the best suited property – the ones we send to Silvan will absolutely adore it.
During our trip we also included quick visits to Thornybush Main Lodge, Arathusa, Chitwa Chitwa and Cheetah Plains. You would have seen our social media postings about them and we’ll gladly provide additional feedback on each on request. The social media posts can be found here:
It was a delight to see a sprinkling of international tourists at the lodges during our stays. South Africa has officially exited its’4th Covid wave (omicron driven), our positive new cases are continually dropping and our restrictions at lowest possible level (there is no longer a curfew and the only noticeable regulations would be the wearing of masks in public spaces and maintaining social distancing). It is currently summer in South Africa and thus the ideal opportunity to be outside and to enjoy the fresh air and ample space. I also can’t imagine a better activity to enjoy during COVID than safari!
Most countries have removed travel bans on South Africa and most airlines reverted to normal service schedules to South Africa. Emirates will actually resume double daily flights to Johannesburg (both on A380’s) and daily flights to Cape Town and Durban on 1 February.
If you have clients considering a last minute trip in the short term, South Africa would definitely be one of the best options. And for February and March some properties have extended some excellent last minute rates to us.
I’d also like to highlight an operational change to one of the products we regularly use. Rovos Rail has amended their schedule on the Cape Town/Pretoria and Pretoria/Cape Town route from a 2 night journey to a 3 night trip. This is with immediate effect. Until the end of September 2022 this change will not affect the cost of this trip – guests thus receive the extra night (and accompanying meals) at no additional cost. From 1 October 2022 rates are adjusted along with the annual increase Rovos implements at that date.
We look forward to walking the road of tourism recovery with you, our value partners. Let it begin!
A world without travel is a world without soul.
Best tourism wishes,